February is a month covered in Valentine’s Day cards, candy hearts, flowers, and professions of love. It is a time when romantic love takes center stage and we swoon over romantic gestures. It’s the time of year when a youth ministry leader’s thoughts turn toward the 6th commandment, and how to discuss the critical issues of dating teens and sexuality. We want to help our teens not just pursue a romantic other, but also pursue purity as they begin to explore how they can honor God with their sexuality.

Yet lately I have felt as though I do my youth a disservice when the only part of dating I discuss with them is sexuality. There are other critical decisions these teens will be making for the first time as they begin to date. They are making choices about who to date, how they will communicate with them, how to deal with breakups, and even how they might deal with issues of dating violence.

In the past, issues of dating and relationship violence prevention was limited to adults who were in serious committed relationships, but over the past years, I have begun to see how important it is to discuss this topic with teens as well.
In 2009 rapper Chris Brown assaulted his girlfriend, pop star Rihanna, and suddenly dating violence, especially in young people, was a hot topic. Since then several other stories of dating violence have hit the media spotlight. Teen Mom star Amber Portwood was charged with domestic battery after she assaulted her former fiancé on camera. For a short time, a tape was spread through several media sources that claimed Brittany Spears was accusing her boyfriend, Jason Trawick, of abusing her. Spears later came out and said the tape was clearly a fake and that she had made no such accusation. In a recent episode of Jersey Shore, star Sammi punched her boyfriend Ronnie on camera during a fight.

The Center for Disease Control reports that nearly one in ten teens in grades seven to twelve, both male and female, has been physically abused by a boy or girlfriend. If other forms of abusive violence are included — from being threatened or emotionally harassed, to name-calling and insults — that number goes way up. What is more disturbing is that according to a recent survey by the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, dating violence is becoming not only more common in teens, but also more accepted.

We can even witness for ourselves how much more accepted this type of behavior has become. MTV has allowed two different scenes of dating violence to air on Teen Mom and Jersey Shore without any consequence or comment from the producers or the network. I heard this for myself when several boys in my youth ministry said Rihanna probably deserved the abuse Christ Brown gave her. Even several of the girls expressed their confidence that Brown must have had a good reason to do something so awful. Nothing shocked me more than to hear this acceptance from my teens. I was able to use the teachable moment to spend some time focusing on how this type of violence, no matter what the circumstances, goes against God’s will and to talk about the kind of love God gives and desires for us to give.

Experts list many reasons behind the rise in violence, yet none seem to help me in my struggle to help teach and talk about the issue in a godly way. I can’t remember even one instance where anyone in my church’s youth ministry growing up or my public high school ever mentioned dating violence. I haven’t seen ways in which we can help young men and women who resort to violence find repentance, forgiveness, and help. Yet it is clear that this is an issue we need to address.

Public schools this fall began to address this issue by starting programs in middle and high schools in eleven cities across the nation designed to help prevent dating abuse. This February has been named the second annual National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Even President Obama in his proclamation creating and highlighting the importance of this awareness month said, “Adolescents in controlling or violent relationships may carry these dangerous and unhealthy patterns into future relationships. The time to break the cycle of teen dating violence is now, before another generation falls victim to this tragedy.”

I want to have the tools to help teens get out of these destructive relationships, and bring grace and hope to those who have made decisions to hurt someone they care for. I hope we can use this opportunity to work together and share ways we can address the issue of dating violence in our teens. Do you have resources? Do you know someone who is addressing this issue effectively? How can we help our teens to develop God-pleasing, healthy relationships? Let’s start the conversation and find ways to help our teens bring true love, forgiveness, and grace into their future relationships.